“Teacher Learning is interwoven with student learning” This is a core belief from the Kentucky Teacher Leadership Framework that is the driver behind our Making Thinking Visible partnership. With the goal of implementing the Next Generation Science Standards, we started our discussions with the question:
When considering our past “first days” of our classes that focus on the nature of science, how does the new vision in the NGSS include how science works or the Nature of Science (NGSS Appendix h)?
A key element of NGSS alignment is 3 Dimensional Learning. The vision of the NGSS describes student learning as sensemaking where “students are, over multiple years of school, actively engaged in scientific and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen the understanding of the core ideas.” (Framework p. 10). That sensemaking can also be described as the ability for students to connect empirical evidence to core ideas and crosscutting concepts to make sense of phenomena. Empirical evidence is defined as information acquired by observation or experimentation that is recorded and analyzed.
Pre-NGSS, we often started our discussions at the beginning of the semester with a focus on observation and inference. We may have even checked to see that students could explicitly define and describe these terms and differentiate between them. In the NGSS era, observations are serving as the foundation of empirical evidence gathered, then reasoned, and finally communicated in an explanation of phenomena. Using this understanding, we decided to focus on observation and inference but under the umbrella of gathering information that we can record, analyze, and then communicate an understanding of the natural world. Our target was
Careful observation, attention to detail, and consideration of validity and reliability are important when acting and thinking like a scientist.
We didn’t just want students to know this, we wanted them to experience it and understand the importance of observations in understanding the world, and also in practicing science. In addition, we wanted them to begin to see that it is evidence, not just answers, that we will value in this class.
This is a quick demonstration performed by the teacher where students are asked to make observations of a phenomenon.
One of the outcomes of this experience that I did not see coming initially and used as a teachable moment was students confronting the bias that they bring into an experience, and why confronting this bias was important in a science classroom where empirical evidence is king.
In NGSS Appendix h, The Nature of Science, there is a discussion of a quote in the Framework “Epistemic knowledge is knowledge of the constructs and values that are intrinsic to science. Students need to understand what is meant, for example, by an observation, a hypothesis, an inference, a model, a theory, or a claim and be able to distinguish among them” (NRC, 2012, page 79). The discussion in the appendix goes on to point out that the Framework quote above presents concepts and activities important to understanding the nature of science as a complement to the practices imbedded in investigations, field studies, and experiments. In other words, an understanding of the Nature of Science and how science works is necessary for students to engage in the practices and 3-dimensional learning. This learning experience and discussion serves as the springboard to a series of experiences to help students understand:
- Scientific Knowledge is Based on Empirical Evidence
- Scientific Knowledge is Open to Revision in Light of New Evidence